dog walks

Bray to Greystones cliff walk is a scenic and historic delight

Bray cliff walk - View of Dalkey island and Howth Head.jpg

Sometimes over the years I’ve missed out on trying something that is right on my doorstep. I used to work in Bray a few decades ago and I never thought back then of walking the famous 5.5 km cliff trail from Bray Head to Greystones. Better late than never though, so I gave it a go last week.

Directions were straightforward. An assistant in a local pharmacy told a friend and me to go to the beach, turn right and keep going. We had arrived on the DART (the urban electric train) from Dublin city centre and the beach promenade was right beside the station so finding it was no problem. The town of Bray was originally developed as a popular resort in Victorian times and features a long promenade. The bandstand dates back to the 1890s.

The railway was finished in 1856 and full marks go to the adventurous Victorian engineers for their tunnels through the rocky cliff face.

The railway was finished in 1856 and full marks go to the adventurous Victorian engineers for their tunnels through the rocky cliff face.

A beautiful coastLINE with wild flowers and sea birds

A variety of wild flowers scramble along the path and down to the rocks below.

A variety of wild flowers scramble along the path and down to the rocks below.

Some people think the east coast of Ireland tame compared to Connemara or West Cork but the views inspired me. The walk is what I would call moderately difficult. This has a rough stony surface in places and is also sometimes steep. Wicklow County Council has kindly added steps at the toughest parts.

Perhaps what I found most interesting was the way the railway line meanders along the edge of the sea. You can see how close the train goes to the water in one of the photos below. The cliff walk came into being to help men and materials reach the railway construction site.

The story goes that in the mid-nineteenth century the Earl of Meath refused to allow the railway to cut through the land of his Kilruddery estate but he handed over the cliff area for free. The line was completed in 1856 with adventurous Victorian engineers designing tunnels through rocks at the edge of the ocean. It was a costly and sometimes dangerous enterprise, with rocks falling and erosion by the sea. In the photo below you’ll see a second tunnel, now abandoned, on the outside of the one in current use. A dramatic crash took place here in August 1867 when a bridge collapsed and a train with passengers plummeted 30 feet. I’ve put the link below where you can read the history of Bray as a resort and the extension of the railroad, if you’d like to see some illustrations.



On the right is a second tunnel that was abandoned after a bridge collapsed in 1867.

On the right is a second tunnel that was abandoned after a bridge collapsed in 1867.

Greystones is a colourful Victorian village with a strong harbour wall

The town of Greystones features briefly in my novel The Neglected Garden as it is where Gilly goes with her sister when the secrets at Glanesfort and its walled garden are threatening to envelop her. In 2010 it still had a Victorian village feel to it, teetering on the edge of modernisation, with old colourful houses facing a grey stony beach. A new harbour wall had recently been constructed, which people could walk along.

The DART electric train runs along the sea at the bottom of the cliffs.

The DART electric train runs along the sea at the bottom of the cliffs.

I noticed as we rounded the bend and Greystones came into view that the new development is now almost finished. Honey-hued houses with balconies face towards Dalkey Island and Howth Head and their view must be breathtaking. The old village is still there and hasn’t changed much although we had to walk right through the housing estate to get to it. The marina and slipway has also had a face lift since 2010.


An interesting array of cafés and restaurants in Greystones

Greystones has interesting cafés and restaurants. We finished our walk with a bright plate of salad and dahl in The Happy Pear and then took the train back to Dublin. The good news for less active types is that you don’t even have to force yourself to walk 5.5 kilometres: the DART train goes all the way. If you ever find yourself on the train out of Dublin to Greystones, keep an eye out for Killiney Bay. The view is wonderful, especially if the sun decides to shine.

More information ON BRAY, GREYSTONES AND WICKLOW

Two versions of an Irish ghost story

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

A locked door at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin.

One of the best things about living in Ireland is how eager people are, often complete strangers, to tell stories. I was lucky enough to be picked to work on a film set at Ardgillan Castle in North County Dublin earlier this summer and, in the quieter moments between shooting, we discussed the history of this beautiful demesne, now restored and run by Fingal County Council. The castellated house with walled garden and parkland has sweeping views of the ocean and is open to the public. As with most castles and grand old houses in Ireland, the stories inevitably involve a ghost.

The ghost who waits on the railway bridge is called The Lady of the Stairs

The Lady of the Stairs is the spectre who lurks on the railway bridge at the lower end of the property nearest the sea. The Dublin to Belfast railway line runs along the edge of the demesne and I was warned not to go near the bridge after dark. This warning was, of course, accompanied by laughter so I didn’t take it too seriously but I was inspired to find out who the Lady of the Stairs was.

It turns out there are two versions of this Irish ghost story. The first reminds me of a novel by John Fowles called The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was made into a film starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. You probably remember it: The beautiful social outcast Sarah Woodruff standing on The Cobb at Lyme Regis, gazing forlornly out to sea while she waits for her French Lieutenant to return. I listened to the audio version last week and it is well narrated by Paul Shelley and more humorous than I remembered. It is a classic worth reading, especially if you’re interested in the Victorian era and society. It is set about 1860.

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

An old unidentified railway bridge, possibly on the Dublin to Belfast line. This is not the one at Ardgillan Castle but it conjures up the right atmosphere. (Photo: National Library of Ireland)

A heart-broken wife gazes out to sea

The first version of the Lady of the Stairs is that, long ago, the husband of this woman was a keen swimmer and one day he went for his usual swim but never returned. His heart-broken wife searched in vain for him and waited day after day and week after week for him on the steps of the railway bridge from which she gazed out to sea. Eventually she faded away from grief and died. Locals will tell you that on dark Halloween nights you would be extremely foolish to go up on the bridge because the Lady of the Stairs waits there to hurl you to your death.

A new bride drowns

The second version is more plausible. A certain Lord Langford visited Ardgillan Castle with his new bride and left her to stay with the family while he travelled to Scotland to go hunting. Lady Langford was tempted to swim in the sea at the edge of the demesne and, in spite of warnings from others that this was a dangerous idea, she couldn’t resist the urge.

She drowned and it is said to be her ghost that haunts the railway bridge, dressed in her white wedding gown as she waits for her husband to return.

The ghost of a white lady in my novel

My own novel has just returned from its final editing stage and also mentions, in traditional Irish fashion, the story of a local ghost at Glanesfort. The white lady is rumoured to stand at the side of the lake as the daylight fades. She plays a small but puzzling role in the novel. Locals say that she was a daughter from the big house who waded into the water and drowned. Is she real or is she just a figment of vivid imaginations? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I’ll give you a hint: She might be more real than you think but for a different reason.

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If you’re interested in reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles or watching the DVD, here are the links:

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - Kindle, hardback and paperback options

The French Lieutenant’s Woman - The classic DVD or Amazon Prime video